News & Media > Editorials > Tasmanian Dairy - History repeats

Tasmanian Dairy - History repeats

By Kristy Alger
Tue 16 April 2024, 5:38pm

Tasmanian dairy farmers are reportedly “heartbroken” over the need to kill calves on farm, due to the ongoing suspension of the Tasmanian Quality Meats (TQM) bobby calf processing licence. This suspension was put in place following the horrific footage captured by Farm Transparency Project (FTP), which showed week old calves being punched, kicked, thrown, incorrectly stunned, and slaughtered whilst fully conscious. According to a recent ABC News report, there are “fears” that until TQM recommences bobby calf slaughter, many thousands of calves will be “culled” on farms.

A calf in the holding pens at TQM slaughterhouse. Farm Transparency Project, 2023.


Gary Carpenter, of Garerley Holsteins (Gunns Plains) and also board member for Holsteins Australia, stated:

“It’s not a pleasant job. It’s something that you just think you’re going to be brave and go out and do it. Emotionally it does knock you about… We’re euthanising calves as we speak.”

“Brave” is not typically the word most people would use of killing a week old calf by shooting or bludgeoning. And yet, most people continue to consume dairy.

The Tasmanian dairy industry is in absolute shambles. On the one hand, there are dairy farmers such as Carpenter lamenting the need to kill on farm the very calves they breed in order to exploit the mothers for milk. On the other hand, those same farmers are looking forward to a return to the calf killing business by a slaughterhouse that has a long and well-documented history of egregious animal cruelty. And in the midst of all this there is the head of the TasFarmers industry lobby group, Ian Sauer, proclaiming that there will be no issues with animal welfare as he is confident farmers will “do the right thing.”

To fully understand the current situation, we need to go back to 2016. In that year, a hidden camera investigation by FTP (then Aussie Farms) exposed the same systemic cruelty at TQM as witnessed just last year. Workers repeatedly kicked, beat, and threw animals including calves. Stunning was not performed effectively. TQM was placed under an investigation, whilst still fully operating, which went on for nearly two years. Then facility manager Brian Oliver admitted acts of cruelty had taken place, stating “we need to do better” and that those responsible had already left the company. No restrictions were placed upon the facility, nor were there requirements for specialised random inspections. Instead, TQM was cleared of all wrongdoing.

It is important to note that at the time of the 2016 footage release, TQM already had CCTV cameras in place

Bobby calf slaughter. Animal Liberation, Animal Liberation Tasmania, Aussie Farms, 2016

Only months after TQM were cleared of animal cruelty, then Australia’s largest dairy Van Diemen’s Land Co. (VDL) was hit by mass internal dissent from senior managers over animal welfare issues. In June 2019, senior management sent a letter to the business owner Xianfeng Lu, stating:

We are seeking indemnity for any animal welfare or workplace health and safety loss or damage until we are provided with basic daily operational repairs and maintenance… We as farm managers are no longer able to ensure nor endorse animal welfare policies…

At the time, VDL owned a milking herd of 18000 cows, operating across 7062 hectares in Tasmania’s north-west at the Woolnorth property. Following these claims, animal welfare officers inspected the properties and declared there to be no issues identified. However in 2021 a whistleblower captured photos of underweight and dead cows, as well as containers full of dead calves at VDL. The Sydney Morning Herald stated:

"He said on at least one farm the cows had not been fed for days, some farms didn’t have enough water for the milking cows to drink, which caused them to struggle, some had been left to die in effluent and on one farm the cows displayed symptoms of mastitis. In the past few days a number of calves had been shot due to malnutrition."

A dead calf at Van Dairy. Anonymous, 2021.

This was history repeating itself; in 2003 RSPCA investigators had found over 200 dead calves and 55 dead cows in one week on the property. And alongside the later documented animal welfare issues, the whistleblower captured images of overflowing effluent systems. An audit completed earlier that year also found 83% of VDL’s 23 farms did not comply with the effluent management code of practice.

VDL then sold off 12 farms in May 2021 to Melbourne-base asset management firm Prime Value, and then a further 6000 hectares to TRT Pastoral Group who converted the land from dairy farming to beef. 

In response to the photographs released of the VDL farms, then contractor Fonterra stated they were working with the company in order to ensure a comprehensive plan was put in place, and that all issues relating to animal welfare and effluent were resolved. However, Fonterra has since dumped VDL as a milk supplier, ending the exclusive contract due to concerns over the future of the company in February this year.

As a result, VDL have sent 10% of their now 7000 head herd to slaughter, and the ABC reports that there are fears that this number may now be in the thousands. A whistleblower who contacted Animal Liberation Tasmania believes some have been sent to Greenham’s abattoir, but that many may have been shipped across Bass Strait to abattoirs in Victoria due to the sheer volume or animals awaiting slaughter. 

And of course, in the midst of all of this, Farm Transparency Project showed the world yet again just how TQM operates, with the literal torture of animals at its Cressy facility, and the same responses as given all those years ago. This time instead of Brian Oliver, it was Jake Oliver delivering the lines about “doing better” and moving staff. But in reality, nothing has changed.

This is the state of Tasmania’s dairy farming industry. 50000 week old calves are facing slaughter this year alone, whether on farm or at TQM when the slaughterhouse resumes its calf killing operations later this year, as a matter of industry standard procedure. Thousands of cows are facing slaughter (outside of those usually sent to slaughter once no longer producing milk at a profitable level) as a result of milk contract cancellations. And no one is being held to account.

Then there are the lesser known cases that have occurred in the Tasmanian industry over the years. In late 2020 dairy farmer Peter Whynn Jones sold 255 cows that he had no legal right to, with 242 being sold to slaughter. In 2022, Robert Scott of The Gums Dairy in Woolnorth was found guilty on four charges of animal cruelty relating to the attempted castration of a pair of goats using cable ties. In 2013, Roderic Neil Mitchell received a wholly suspended 15 month sentence, reduced on appeal in 2014, for nearly 200 counts of animal cruelty following the neglect and starvation of over 180 cows at his Redpa dairy property. And who could forget the horrific killing of the dairy cow at Gretna Meatworks in 2016, forced to walk on a broken leg, subjected to repeated attempts at stunning, yet still consciously responding as the slaughterman hacked into her bloody neck.

It is unfathomable that dairy farmers like Gary Carpenter should expect the public’s sympathy when faced with the prospect of slaughtering calves on farm. It is also particularly galling to have Sauer telling the public that farmers will do the right thing; as though stripping newborn calves from their mothers and sending them on trucks to slaughterhouses, or shooting them in the head and throwing them into ditches would in any circumstances outside of the animal agricultural industries be deemed “the right thing” to do. But this is an industry that rarely, if ever, holds itself to account.

Ultimately, the question boils down to whether dairy farmers are personally confronted with the reality of killing the calves they deliberately create, or whether they can maintain the distance that the gates of the slaughterhouses provide. Either way, there is little comfort to be had for the calves themselves, or for their mothers awaiting the same fate.

* * * *


Kristy Alger

Kristy Alger is an animal rights activist from lutruwita/Tasmania. She is currently the key organiser for Animal Liberation Tasmania, and head campaigner for Defund Tasracing. Alger is a published author, releasing Five Essays for Freedom: a political primer for animal advocates in 2020.

Facilities related to this article